“Israel attacks Gaza and kills civilians”

That is the headline in most western and European media.  They neglect to mention that the Hamas terrorist organization that controls Gaza fired 200 missiles and mortar shells into Israel before Israel retaliated.  About 12 Israeli civilians were injured, no mention of this.  And in destroying a Hamas terrorist HQ in Gaza city, several people were killed, they always emphasize women and children casualties.  Although given their propensity to lie one cannot trust their reports.

As I have pointed out before, in Israel it is mandatory that all public buildings have shelters and all new private homes.  For the first time I used the protected room (mamad) in my house, when on Friday at 3 pm I was awakened by the shrill sound of the siren indicating a missile attack.  I sat in there for about 10 mins, but hearing no further sounds and needing a cup of tea I went into the kitchen and said a silent “screw you” to the terrorists and indulged.

By contrast in Gaza they not only don’t make civilian’s shelters, they actually use the population, especially women and children, as shields for the launching pads of the missiles and the inflammatory balloons and kites that they have been sending over to Israel to destroy crops and houses. That is why there are always women and children killed, they are willing to sacrifice them as pawns, and anyway they are considered property under Islamic Sharia Law.   This is something that the good western liberals don’t get, there is no humanitarian problem in the Arab world, since the people being sacrificed are not considered human anyway.   They are little more than animals, in fact in Islamic Law donkeys are more valuable than second or third wives.


Short Trips Around Small Countries: Jordan III Crossing the Adam Bridge

On my second trip to Jordan in 1995, instead of meeting the rest of the group in Jerusalem, I arranged to meet them at the crossing point into Jordan, that was to be an unusual place.  Most people cross into Jordan at the Allenby Bridge near Jericho.  But, this time we were crossing at the Adam Bridge, in the center of the country that was a military base and was reserved for military and diplomatic missions.  I was visiting my in-laws in Netanya on the coast, so it made no sense to me to go all the way to Jerusalem in order to go back to the center again.  On the map it looked like a straight run from Netanya to the Adam Bridge.  This may have been a mistake.

In Netanya I looked for a taxi that could take me to the Adam (also known as the Damia) Bridge.  But, I discovered that no-one wanted to go. First, they never went there because no-one crossed there and second it was dangerous, going most of the way through the West Bank, that was part of the Palestine Authority.  Eventually I found a taxi company that arranged with an Arab taxi service to pick me up and take me there, for a fee (that was refundable).  I was told to be there at 2 pm.

The taxi headed inland and passed through the new Israeli city of Ariel (now with some 30,000 inhabitants) and then descended slowly through winding roads with Arab villages on both side and past the Israeli settlement of  Ma’ale Efraim (Heights of Efraim, this was the region of the biblical tribe Efraim) through Masua (Torch) to the isolated Bridge.  When we got there it was a closed military base, and before I could ask him to wait the taxi driver made a quick U-turn and was away.

Before me was a large locked gate, with a sentry post up the hill.  An IDF guard sauntered down the road to me and asked in Hebrew “what do you want?”  I told him in Hebrish that I was supposed to meet some people there, he said “no people here” and was about  to turn around and leave me.  I said with as much authority as I could muster “I want to see your commanding officer.”  He looked at me as if I were crazy, then tramped back up the road.  I waited in the heat.

Eventually a smart young officer came down the road and asked me in perfect English, “what’s the problem?”  I explained the situation to him.  He said, “we don’t have any information about a group passing thru the bridge today.”  I showed him my official US passport and various papers proving my story, and told him the name of the Israeli diplomat who would be accompanying the group and asked him to contact him.  He seemed amenable to do this, so he opened the gate and said follow me, and we trudged up the hill.  At the top was a large hut.  There he put me in an air conditioned room (like a prisoner), gave me water, and said wait, I’ll try to contact him.

Some time later he returned and said we contacted his office in the Foreign Ministry (FM) but they said he’s busy today.  I told him, of course he’s busy, he’s coming here with a group of Americans and Israelis to go to Jordan.  He was skeptical.  I showed him the letter from the official telling me where to meet them.  He said he would try to confirm my story.  Some time later he returned and said “yes,” his office in the FM had confirmed that he was taking a group including Americans to Jordan thru the Bridge, but he had received no prior notice of this.  I said well that’s not my fault that’s just incompetence.  So then he asked me about myself and his attitude warmed, he offered me tea and cake and a female soldier served me.

Then the officer came back and said the office in the FM had managed to contact him en route, he was picking people up in Tel Aviv (so why couldn’t he have picked me up there?), and they would be delayed. Meanwhile he had the FM inform the IDF that sent orders to the officer to allow us through the Bridge.  Now he became friendly and offered to show me around, and we sat and chatted and waited until the group arrived in a mini-van, only a few hours late.

Then I joined them and we followed a military jeep towards the Bridge, thru machine gun emplacements, and across the rickety bridge itself and up the other sided past Jordanian Army emplacements, and finally we were waved down by an officer. The Jordanian Officer was very friendly, he spoke English and looked just like Clark Gable, I wondered if anyone had ever told him that.  We exited the van and climbed into a military vehicle and then we were driven in a small military convoy to Amman.



The Oil Reversion

Ten years ago the US was a net importer of oil, importing about 70% of its needs, mostly from the Middle East.  Today the US is a net exporter of oil and natural gas, and imports only 30% of its needs.  The reasons for this are, the cost of shale oil extraction in North Dakota has gone down by ca. 50% and the use of fracking has provided huge amounts of oil and natural gas.  The US is poised to become the second largest producer of oil in the world after Russia, and is about to out-produce Saudi Arabia.  What a reversal of fortunes.

So I think we can safely say that the “oil weapon” that was used by the Arabs in the 1970’s to blackmail the West, will never happen again.  The US exports natural gas to Canada and Mexico and by tanker as liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe.  Pres. Trump wants to double those exports in order to wean Europe away from dependence on Russia’s oil/gas supplies.  Also, the fact that the US is a net exporter of oil/gas means that the price of a gallon of oil has gone down from its historic highs,and will probably never rise again.  At present there ise more than enough gas/oil in the world to satisfy current needs.  But, everyone is aware that these needs and demands for energy in the form of electricity is always increasing, hence the need to develop efficient clean energy production.

There are six major forms of clean energy being developed and used: 1. Biomass, especially burning trash and agricultural byproducts; 2. Solar, several types including solar batteries (direct energy) and solar mirror farms (indirect); 3. Waves, both coastal waves and deep-sea water movements; 4. Wind, mainly in the form of huge propeller farms; 5. Hydro; from dams and waterfalls; 6. Thermal, mainly from underground heating.  Each of these forms have their niche, such as underground thermal heating is used in Iceland to supply most of their energy needs.  In Holland, there is a lot of offshore wind energy being exploited.  In desert areas, solar is being rapidly expanded, in Spain, Israel and California.  All of these methods are being developed, thus gradually lowering the dependence on oil.  And then there is of course nuclear energy, and in the long-term fusion energy.

All of these alternative energy sources, as well as the current glut of oil on the world’s market, have reduced the financial power of such countries as Saudi Arabia and Iran. And if that is their only money-earning resource, then they have in the long-term to change and plan for a different form of economy.  In Saudia that is one reason why the King-in-waiting Mohammed bin Salman, is already starting to transform and liberalize their society.  They will need to have women in their work force, which means allowing them to drive and to travel unimpeded by the old ways of needing to obtain written permission from their male relatives (and you thought they were making these changes because they have become humanitarians).  The increased involvement of women in society and their increased economic power will hopefully make Islamic societies more humane in the long run.

The US now has the largest amount of oil as a strategic reserve than at any time in the past, and its oil/gas production is increasing all the time.  The price of oil is bound to go down, thus hitting the Middle East oil producers financially and reducing their political bargaining power.  The world is changing, and we should not be afraid to grasp the advantage.


Short Trips Around Small Countries: Jordan II

I recall two trips to Jordan in 1995.  The first trip I had an appointment in Amman with a Jordanian researcher who had requested to meet me.  I went from Jerusalem in a taxi driven by an Arab driver. This was suggested as a good idea since he could drive directly by the shortest route across the West Bank past Jericho (which was in the Palestine Authority) to the Jordanian border.  Israeli taxi drivers were afraid to take this route.  We crossed thru the area in record time and got to the PA-Israeli border post that one had to pass thru before crossing the official border between Israel and Jordan.

But, the Israeli border guards at the PA border post had not yet opened the gate.  So I went and chatted to them in English, and then the taxi driver suggested a short trip around, he said come, I’ll show you Arafat’s Villa, and we drove up the road to see a huge mansion.  So that was where all the aid money went.  Finally they opened the gate and let us thru.  After going thru the Jordanian border at the Allenby Bridge with my official US passport I had to hire a taxi to take me to Amman.

There was a lot of competition, and I chose a grizzled old man because it looked like he rarely got a fare. We were making good time to get to Amman for my meeting, with no a/c, but then disaster, we were held up in traffic for an hour.  It turned out that a truck had tipped over with its load all over the road.  I arrived 1.5 hrs late at the hotel in Amman, and there was a note saying that the Jordanian scientist could not wait any longer for me.

The following morning, there were two of us Americans who had arrived on day early for the meeting.  So the Jordanian authority that was sponsoring the meeting told us they would give us a car and a driver and we could go where ever we liked.  So we agreed we wanted to go to Jerash, the ruins of the largest Roman city in the region.  Our car turned out to be a big black Mercedes, and the driver spoke English, so we were whisked away north out of Amman.  Indeed the ruins at Jerash were amazing, the city was huge.  There was a large open piazza, and a long street with columns all along.  We spent a few hours there and had lunch in a nearby cafe.

Then we proceeded further north, in fact to the end of the road on the mountainous heights, to a Roman ruin at the village of Umm Qais.  There we sat on the veranda of a cafe and sipped tea with a magnificent view overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  I must admit this was an unusual situation for an American Jew and soon-to-be Israeli, overlooking the whole of northern Israel from the heights of Jordan, close to the convergence of the Israeli, Syrian and Jordanian borders.

We returned to Amman. It had been called Philadelphia by the Greeks.  It had been one of the ten Roman cities in the region, the Decapolis.  Little is left now of that ancient city, a large Roman theater still used for public events, and a citadel.  Not that much to see.  The next day our meetings started at the Center for Science and Technology on the campus of the University of Jordan in Amman.

A day or two later I was called out of a meeting of the JEG to meet the scientist who I had missed several days earlier.  It turned out that he was a biochemist who had been trained in the US and was now a Professor at a Jordanian University.   After introductions, I asked him why he had specifically asked to meet me.  He explained that he had been asked to join our program, but he was of Palestinian origin, and he had misgivings about it, and he wanted me to explain to him why it would be in his interest.  Then followed one of the most fascinating conversations I have ever had.  This was no extremist, this was an American-educated scientist who needed reassurance about this program and perhaps more generally.

I told him that unless he wanted his son and my grandson in Israel to be fighting each other in the next generation, there had to be a stop to the conflict, and this could only come about by acceptance of the other as well as modernization and development in his country, Jordan.  I thought that it was an amazing gesture of the US to help bring the two sides together and help foster Jordanian science and development.  There was no secret that Israeli science was way ahead of Jordanian levels, he obviously was aware of this.  So what was needed to improve the situation was technical development in Jordan and in the rest of the Arab world and not a return to continuing to fight the old wars.  He listened to me intently and asked questions and then went away.  Some days later I was informed that he had decided to join our program.

My contribution to the program was to suggest focus on isolating genes from plants adapted to growing in arid zones and transferring them to other plants that were not so adapted naturally.  In this way Jordan could use its large area of arid land that was so far infertile to increase its yield of food and other crops.  I also proposed establishing a plant biotechnology center in the Arava Valley between Israel and Jordan that would be used by scientists on both sides, with US help, to carry out this research.  It could be sustained by eco-tourism of the Arava Valley.  I am very pleased to say that some years later such an Institute was established.


The Nation-State Law Recriminations

After the Nation-State Law was passed by a majority vote of the Knesset, it has come under fire from the usual suspects, the Palestinians, the Western pro-Palestinian liberal elite, and the left-wing in Israel.  But, perhaps more worrying is that it has also stirred opposition within Israel from unexpected sources, most notably the Druze.

First Brig. Gen. Amal Assad, a strong Druze supporter of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, contacted him to express Druze reservations about the Law.  Then Bennett wrote a letter to PM Netanyahu pointing out the Druze concerns.  In this letter he referred to the Druze as “our brothers.”  Indeed the Druze, a small religious community in Israel have been very loyal to the State of Israel, serving faithfully in the IDF and indeed dying side-by-side with Jewish soldiers.  Then Netanyahu arranged a meeting with Druze leadership, including their spiritual leader Sheik Mowfat Tarif.  This meeting ended in recriminations, so that there were two further meetings.  Now, with Bennett’s help further negotiations are underway to come up with a compromise that could amend the law to satisfy the Druze and other minorities.

The Druze are considered a heretical sect of Islam, that developed in Egypt in the 13th century.  They believe that Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, is another prophet of God, who has been over-looked by others.  They were persecuted in Egypt and fled along the coast to the mountains of Lebanon where they took refuge in the region called Jebel Druze.  Their minority status means that they are loyal to any country that protects them.  So far they have been loyal to Lebanon, Syria and Israel.  They also cultivate a strong military tradition.

In order to put pressure on Netanyahu to amend the law, a large demonstration was held last Sat night in Tel Aviv with tens of thousands of Druze and Labor Party supporters, who oppose the Nation-State Law.  Although I understand the Druze concerns, the fact is that this Law is an addition to the Basic Laws of Israel, but changes nothing in terms of treatment of minorities.  The Druze want to be acknowledged as part of the State that we call Israel alongside the Jews.  But, the fact is that in a democracy, the majority rule, and this Nation-State law is what the majority of Jews want.  Once the Druze critics start to bandy around terms like “apartheid State” which they know very well is untrue and defamatory, then the two sides will have to part ways.

Short Trips Around Small Countries: Jordan I Background

One day in 1995 as I was about to leave work at the National Science Foundation, our boss came around asking “does anyone know about the Middle East?”  I put my head out of the door and said, “yes I  do!”  As a matter of fact it was true, I had been a student of the Middle East for many years and had read widely on the subject, mainly because of my interest in Israel.  She said to me, “We’ve had an urgent request for someone who knows biotechnology and knows about the Middle East to serve on a committee, are you interested?”  I said “Yes,” so she replied “write me up a one page description of your interests now and I’ll submit it and we’ll see what they say.”

A few days later I received a call from someone at the US Information Agency.  He said “I received your description regarding biotechnology and the Middle East,”   I said “yes, what’s it all about,”  He said “we’re putting together a Committee to deal with scientific relations between Jordan and Israel, and they’ve identified biotechnology as one of the topics and you seem to be an appropriate candidate.”  I said “good.” Then he asked, “are you the Jack Cohen who used to be at NIH and helped set up a program at the American Chemical Society to help scientists who are being persecuted?”  I said “as a matter of fact I am.” Then he replied “well, my name is John Hughes, and I was an intern in that program.  I remember you well.  So you’ve got the job,  When can we meet?”

This amazing coincidence got me appointed to a Committee consisting of three representatives in the subjects of agriculture, education and biotechnology from each of the three countries Jordan, Israel and the USA.  We were the Joint Expert Group (JEG).  The program was known as the “Jordanian-Israeli-American Trilateral Cooperation in the Physical Sciences, The Social Sciences and Applied Technology.”   For these negotiations, first there was a meeting of the Committee in Washington DC, including a representative from each country (a diplomat), to draw up an agenda, then two meetings in Jordan, then one in Israel and finally one back in Washington to finalize the Report of the JEG.   The Americans were intended to be advisers to the other two as a measure towards fostering peace between the two countries.  It was thru this means that I happened to tour Jordan in 1995, soon after the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.

Russian-Israel Agreement on Golan

After negotiations, Israel has agreed to Russian terms for keeping Iranian forces away from the Israeli Golan border.  At first Israel insisted on a separation of more than 100 km.  But, finally PM Netanyahu accepted a distance of 85 km, but this was only after Pres. Putin agreed to have Russian military police stationed on the Golan Heights to ensure Iranian compliance.

This is a great outcome because it hopefully guarantees that Iran cannot take advantage of its position as a supporter of Pres. Assad to entrench itself on the Golan close to the Israeli border.  Iran has for many years been uttering dire threats of destruction against Israel. With a Russian presence there, as long as they keep to the agreement, then it means there is no possibility of Iran being able to amass troops along the border and invade Israel.  Of course, it doesn’t stop them from firing long-range missiles into Israel from Syria, but Israel has anti-missile missiles that can effectively counteract such attacks.

Of course, this does not mean the end of potential serious threats from Iran, particularly over its intention to develop nuclear weapons.  As the spectacular Israeli haul of a ton of secret documents taken out of a locked, guarded, high security facility in Tehran proves, the regime is still very actively continuing this aim.  But, things are coming to a climax in that direction too, because Iran has so far done nothing in retaliation to the US under Pres. Trump withdrawing from the JCPOA. the multi-party international agreement made by Pres. Obama, that would have given Iran an open-ended access to develop nuclear weapons upon its termination.

They must react soon, or otherwise lose all credibility.  But, they are in a bind, because Pres. Trump has used belligerent language, the opposite from what Obama was doing, regarding Iranian threats to close the Gulf of Hormuz, through which some 30% of all the world’s oil supply flows (from Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran itself).   Trump has indicated that such a move by Iran would be considered an act of war and would have disastrous consequences for the free world.  So the chips are down, will Iran try to out-maneuver Russia on the Golan, or Trump in the Persian Gulf and will they continue their drive for nuclear weaponry?  The ball is in their court.